West Ham hopeful of retaining Neill

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The Independent Football

West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola remains hopeful of convincing defender Lucas Neill to sign a new deal with the club.

The Australia international's contract at Upton Park expired at the end of last month and he did not fly to Beijing with the Hammers for this week's Barclays Asia Trophy, fuelling speculation that his future lies elsewhere.

He had previously rejected a fresh offer from West Ham when they are believed to have offered the 31-year-old reduced terms to remain at the club.

Mark Hughes, who previously worked with Neill at Blackburn, has been linked with a bid to take the player to Manchester City, while reports also claim Galatasaray are keen to reunite him with Socceroos team-mate Harry Kewell.

But Zola sees Neill as a key player for West Ham as they look to improve on their ninth-placed finish last season and insists talks remain ongoing.

"Lucas Neill is talking with the club," said the Italian. "We need obviously to have some negotiations but I am hoping that he is going to join us as soon as possible.

"I know his name has been linked to other clubs. Last time I spoke to the player he told me that if anything could happen he would call me first. So far he has not called me so I assume he is not yet going anywhere.

"He was an important player last year and our aim this year is to work to improve how we did last season and we hope that he will make his decision."

Meanwhile, Zola is adamant the club's participation in the Barclays Asia Trophy this week will prove beneficial to the players for the coming season.

The Hammers recently completed a two-week training camp in Austria before heading to China where they will play Premier League rivals Tottenham at Beijing's Workers Stadium tomorrow.

Zola has brought a strong squad to the Chinese capital and the 43-year-old believes that participating in competitive games this summer will stand his side in good stead come the start of the season.

"It is important for us to play competitive games," he said.

"My team will give 100 per cent as if we want to be in good shape for the season we need to be playing competitive games."